Over the last 12 months the public debate over the proposed Copping hazardous waste disposal landfill (or C-cell) has been the catalyst for a renewed debate about a range of waste management issues.
The proponent of the Copping C-cell, Southern Waste Solutions, has suggested a number of times that the community should refrain from criticising the C-cell because most of us are probably sending household hazardous waste (HHW) to existing landfill sites, which are not designed to contain such wastes, and that this is probably causing significant environmental harm and risk to human health. The TCT will continue to criticise the proposal for a C-cell but we do agree that it is not acceptable to send HHW to landfill.
HHW includes a wide range of materials commonly used in households but which are toxic, corrosive, inflammable or have reactive ingredients.
If you have hazardous waste and attempt to find a safe means of disposing of it you will discover it is very difficult to dfind out what you should do and, in some critical areas, there seems to be no acceptable disposal option.
Tasmanian household hazardous waste pilot collection program
In response to the absence of appropriate means of disposing of HHW, the ‘Tasmanian household hazardous waste pilot collection program’ operated from March 2009 until December 2012, offering Tasmanians an opportunity to safely dispose of household chemicals.
A strategic review of the program was undertaken and findings are presented in a report which is available on the Local Government Association of Tasmania website at http://www.lgat.tas.gov.au/page.aspx?u=512
The project proved very popular and collected a large amount of hazardous waste which would otherwise have gone to landfill, but was discontinued when the original funding ran out. As stated in the review, while an effective program it was also an expensive one.
The pilot collection program review report found that:
Over those three years the pilot collection program offered 34 drop-off days across 24 local council jurisdictions, with 2658 people surrendering 78,529kg of material at a total cost of $967,959. The first of its kind in Tasmania, the jointly funded ($500,000 each) State and Local Government project demonstrated the benefits of statewide partnership projects.
The pilot collection program review called for ongoing government funding but also recommended that more could be achieved using existing resources, such as collection points at waste transfer stations more effectively, seeking private sponsorship for mobile Low Volume High Toxicity (LVHT) drop-off days and investigation of schemes to make producers more responsible for disposal of their hazardous wastes.
These were the recommendations of the review:
- Design and provide funding for a statewide network of permanent drop-off sites for High Volume Low Toxicity (HVLT) items (82% of material by volume) such as paint, batteries, gas bottles, fluoro tubes and aerosols. Where such collections already exist, consider the option of expanding and/or creating a regional centre for collection and consolidation of material. This will allow for greater economies of scale, reduce the cost per kilo for transport and treatment, and allow greater opportunity for direct reuse (e.g. paint) via resource recovery operations.
- Provide regionally focused mobile drop-off locations targeting Low Volume High Toxicity (LVHT) materials. Mobile collection days are expensive to host and should aim to collect only highly toxic material.
- Develop a register system for participants using mobile drop-off days. This ensures greater effectiveness of offering mobile days, allows better planning and higher quality of service with reduced overheads.
- Marketing to utilise a variety of options such as letterbox drops, newspaper, radio, television, local government and state government promotional avenues. Support should also be provided for a freecall number and message bank service, and website.
- Actively pursue cost-saving measures by reuse, recycling and recovery of commodities, for example supporting and engaging reuse operations (e.g. tips shops).
- Engage Tasmanian organisations to assist financially and/or in-kind sponsoring mobile LVHT drop-off days and permanent HVLT sites.
- Train local/state governmentl to operate components of the mobile drop-off days to help reduce operational costs.
- Partake in discussions regarding extended producer responsibility (EPR) schemes, and national or state product stewardship arrangements.
The program review report includes in LVHT wastes:
- acidic liquid
- arsenic-based products
- heavy metal compounds excluding metallic mercury
- metallic mercury
- organic peroxides
- oxidising (solid and liquid)
- PCB materials
- pesticides (solid and liquid toxic)
- pesticides OC (solid and liquid toxic)
- photographic chemicals
- solvents – halogenated
- toxic (solid and liquid)
- unknown (solid and liquid)
The current state of play with HHW and how to improve it
With a new state government recently elected, the TCT is preparing a proposal to the new Minister for Environment, Matthew Groom, regarding ways to fund an expanded HHW program.
To illustrate how urgently we require improvements in how HHW is managed, we recently went to the Southern Waste Strategy Authority (SWSA) website to see how we should and could dispose of such wastes.
The SWSA states emphatically that:
It is not permitted, and it can also be dangerous, to discard hazardous waste in your general council-provided bin. Items that are not accepted in general council-provided rubbish collections include:
- agricultural chemicals and drums
- batteries (for example car, mobile phone or regular household batteries)
- cleaning and polishing chemicals
- motor oils (for example from cars or mowers)
- obsolete computer equipment, TVs (e-waste)
- out of date or unwanted pharmaceuticals (all medicines)
- pesticides and other garden chemicals
- petrol and kerosene
- solvent-based paints
- swimming pool or spa bath chemicals
- thermometers, barometers, thermostats, fluorescent tubes and compact fluorescent globes
The website also states that ‘There are many ways of safely disposing of hazardous waste. This is what you can do:’ but it only provids options for a few, albeit more dangerous, HHW types:
- Agricultural chemicals and drums: ChemClear accepts agricultural and veterinary chemicals for safe disposal and drumMUSTER accepts empty chemcial drums for recycling.
- Gas cylinders (LPG): This includes cylinders for BBQs, patio-heaters, caravans, camping and lamps.These cylinders can be returned through swap programs provided by retailers for replacement, refilling or disposal.
- Laser and printer inkjet cartridges:These can be taken to numerous retail outlets for recycling, including Australia Post, Harvey Norman, and Officeworks outlets.
- Mobile phones and phone batteries: many mobile phone retailers and other retail stores will accept used mobile phones and accessories for recycling. Check out: mobilebuster.com.au
The SWSA website then states that:
Some councils offer recycling and disposal services for some hazardous waste materials. Contact your local council to safely dispose of:
- car batteries
- computers and TVs(e-waste)
- fluorescent tubes and compact fluorescent globes
- gas cylinders
- household batteries
- used motor oils
- used cooking oil
If you are unsure if the materials you have to dispose of are hazardous, give the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) hotline a call on 1300 135 531.
What is wrong with HHW management?
The SWSA does not provide a clear, recommended means of disposal for most of the HVLT and LVHT waste items listed in the Tasmanian HHW waste pilot collection program review report (and summarised above). This is not SWSA’s fault because disposal methods do not exist for most of HHW.
The SWSA website makes a recommendation regarding a subset of HVLT and LVHT waste types, that they not be put in your general council-provided bin. We understand that this means that they are not permitted to be disposed of in landfill, but the language on the SWSA website needs correcting to make this explicit.
But SWSA provides specific advice regarding disposal of only four HHW types: mobile phones and phone batteries, laser and printer inkjet cartridges, agricultural chemicals and drums and gas cylinders.
The SWSA advises that ‘Some councils offer recycling and disposal services’ for a longer list of HHWs but our brief investigations show this to be largely absent in some cases (e.g. Clarence City Council) and unsatisfactory in most instances (see below for some examples).
So if you have HHW and your council cannot provide you with satisfactory information then we are guessing that most people either send it to landfill (with small items put in their domestic rubbish bin – which puts those collecting the rubbish potentially at risk) or they store them up in their home or office (which puts staff and vistors to your workplace at risk).
Where are you supposed to take car tyres, cleaning and polishing chemicals, out-of-date or unwanted pharmaceuticals (all medicines), petrol and kerosene, swimming pool or spa bath chemicals, household batteries, computers and TVs (e-waste), and fluorescent tubes and compact fluorescent globes? But here is the result of our investgations for a few HHW.
Most landfill sites and waste transfer stations have collection points for car tyres but there are heafty charges for these – $12 at the McRobie’s Gully landfill in Hobart for one standard car tyre. We have noticed significant numbers of tyres dumped on roadsides and bushland over the years and this is presumably because of the cost issue.
Disappointingly, some landfill sites are licensed to receive shreaded car tyres so when you do the right thing and pay for them to be accepted at a landfill site, it may just pay for them to be shreaded and dumped. We hope that the car-tyre recycling facility proposed for Campbell Town in northern Tasmania is succesful and that this places a value on tyres and prevents them being dumped in landfill. It may also reduce the cost of dropping them off at landfill sites or you might even get paid for them.
The mobile muster program collects mobile phone batteries through a numebr of battery retail outlets. We take ours to the Battery World shop in Hobart. When we contacted our local waste transfer station to dispose of clock, phone and camera batteries, we were told that they used to collect them but now only accept car batteries. We were told that a well-known waste management company operating in Tasmania might run a program to collect household batteries but it seems that it is not publicised anywhere and the waste transfer station staff were not aware of it.
We will attempt to dispose of some batteries through this company and see whether they will accept them and whether they are disposing them in an appropriate way. The Clean Up Australian Day website states that there is currently no facility in Australia to dispose of household batteries and when collected they are sent overseas for processing.
Fluorescent tubes and compact fluorescent globes
The TCT office has a collection of used fluorescent tubes and, given that the SWSA website advises that we cannot put these in our general waste, we consulted three council websites about what we should do with them. The Clarence City Council site provides no information, but the Sorell Council site advises that fluorescent tubes and compact fluorescent globes should be sent to ‘landfill’. Hobart City Council advised that it hopes to receive funding to establish a recycling facility at the McRobies Gully landfill site but that currently tubes and globes go into landfill.
If the gas in fluorescent tubes and compact fluorescent globes is released in confined spaces it creates a significant health hazard. At a minimum there needs to be a safer means of transporting them to landfill sites.
The Sorell Council website advises in relation to pharmaceuticals that we consult the Yellow Pages. This is hardly acceptable as most people would not bother looking or not know where to look in the Yellow Pages. However the website www.returnmed.com.au advises that you take unwanted medicines to your pharmacy for safe disposal.
TVs and e-waste
Many council websites proudly advise that we can take TVs and e-waste to reuse shops. But recently I took an old analogue TV to a Hobart reuse shop. It was reluctantly accepted and I was told mine would be the last they would accept. It seems that the supply of old TVs, even those that can receive a signal, is much higher than the demand, and reuse shops are bulging at the seams. And the materials in them is of such low value that no one wants to recycle them. Presumably old TVs now get sent to landfill.
Congratulations to ChemClear
Many years ago the TCT purchased a container of herbicide for use in a Bushcare project and only used a small proportion of it. As the herbicide is not recommended for hand application for weed control it cannot be used by the TCT or any Landcare groups. The container is also getting very old and we were concerned that it might develop a leak. We contacted the ChemClear organisation and they said they could accept it but that we needed to register it for collection at a yet-to-be-nominated collection day. Very efficiently, they directed us to where we could download a registration form, immediately on receipt of this form they phoned us to check key details. Shortly after, they sent us details of the likely collection point and date and provided stickers for the containers. The chemcial was collected on 31 March. Top marks to ChemClear.
So who is Chemclear? The Chemclear website states that:
ChemClear is a national product stewardship program and enjoys the support of 100 participating agvet (agricultural and veterinary) chemical manufacturers and industry stakeholders, including grower and farming associations, local and state governments.
ChemClear compliments drumMUSTER, by providing agvet chemical users with a recycling and disposal option for agvet customers. Both programs are funded by AgStewardship Australia Limited through a 4c per litre levy placed on participating manufactures’ products and passed onto consumers at the point of sale.
We understand that where possible collected chemcials are reused but it is more likely that they are destroyed in high-temperture incinerators.
It just goes to show that many areas of waste management can be done outside of government, and probably better than government, but there is clearly still a role for government to ensure these programs adhere to environment human health regulations.